Revealing the awesome human form

Roy Glover ’63


Summer 2011

Roy Glover ’63 believes the appeal behind the “Bodies Revealed” exhibit is that it’s personal.

“It’s about you, it’s about me, it’s about everyone who sees it,” said Glover, chief medical director and spokesperson for the exhibit, produced by Premier Exhibitions and recently hosted by the Grand Rapids Public Museum. “Bodies” has appeared in more than 30 countries and 60 U.S. cities and been visited by more than 16 million people.

The exhibit—expected to be the most popular to date at the Grand Rapids site—features 14 full-body human specimens and more than 200 organs maintained through a process called polymer preservation, in which human tissue is permanently preserved using liquid silicone rubber.

Glover taught anatomy for more than 30 years at the University of Michigan Medical School and developed the university’s Polymer Preservation Laboratory. He was tapped as an expert for the exhibit because of his unique qualifications.

He first read of polymer preservation in 1983 and believed that the process could revolutionize the way people teach anatomy. By 1989, due in large part to Glover’s persistence, the University of Michigan built the lab.

“It was built for medical reasons,” said Glover, “to support anatomy teaching not just at our school, but at all medical schools.”

He first discovered that the general public might be interested while he was serving as an instructor at a summer camp. “I was asked to be one of the featured speakers at a University of Michigan alumni family camp,” he said, “so I loaded up the car with hearts and livers and went to camp.

“There was tremendous interest by people at the camp,” he recalled. “Who wouldn’t be interested? You have a liver. Wouldn’t you want to know where it is, what it does and how to take care of it?”

In fact, body care is one of the main educational elements of “Bodies Revealed.” “I tell people that they have been given many precious things, but the body is the most precious. So why do people take better care of their cars than they do their bodies?” Glover said. “People put all kinds of junk into their bodies, and the exhibit shows the effect of that.”

The exhibit also provides a look at the way we are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” he said. “The more you’re around the human body, the more you get this indescribable feeling: It’s awe-inspiring.”

Each of the exhibit’s nine galleries highlights one of the body’s systems: skeletal, muscular, circulatory, reproductive, etc. Glover’s favorite is the neurological. “I did most of my research at the U of M on neuroscience,” he said, “particularly the neuroglia [non-neuronal cells that provide support and protection for the brain’s neurons], of which people know very little.”

In the end, though, it’s seeing the whole body and the interrelationship between the systems that impresses people, Glover said.

“The comments from people demonstrated the impact the exhibit has,” he said. “People say things like, ‘I never realized how marvelous and complex the body is and how important it is for me to care for it.’ And for some people it has a very spiritual nature, and I’ve had the opportunity to speak very openly about that. People relate to ‘being created in God’s image’ in a way that they never have before. It’s very gratifying.”